Dealing With Negative Reviews: SEO Tips and Action Steps

Respond to reviews: SEO impact, tips, and steps to address issues. Responding to reviews positive or negative is crucial for your SEO and digital marketing.

Reputation management is becoming such an important service that many digital marketers and agencies are offering this singular service. For example, there’s, a Canadian digital marketing agency that specializes in reputation management and SEO services based on it.

They offer negative content suppression services, review management, corporate communications, and internal reputation management (such as managing employee reviews). They even offer services related Wikipedia profiles, libel issues, and crisis management.

But of all the reputation management steps you can take, responding to reviews is the most important. Both good and bad ones.

Negative reviews can influence your customers’ decisions and hurt your business. Like it or not, ignoring reviews is the worse thing you can do.

Studies show that customers often view companies more favorably when they respond to reviews. Your responses can even become more influential and impactful than the reviews themselves.

Sadly, however, it’s often an ignored or missed opportunity.

Imagine being on page two or three in Google results. As the joke goes, “Google’s second page is the best place to hide a dead body.” But imagine being on page one for no reason other than the preponderance of negative reviews. This can be worse.

I’ve heard one professional say, “Talk good about me or talk bad, but either way, talk about me.” Or, “Love me or hate me, there’s no money in the middle.”

That’s all well and good, and the purpose of that quote is to understand that you can’t please everyone. It’s important to stand for something than trying to be milquetoast by trying to appeal to everyone. And you shouldn’t.

But the issue is that negative reviews show up as a score (such as a star rating). When your two or three-star review shows up on the first page of Google alongside competitors with four or more star reviews, you are not only losing traction but you’re also helping your competitors through the power of contrast.

So the goal is to respond to reviews, and there a few steps you can take to optimize the process.

1. It’s all about customer service.

Reviews are often an indication of customer service and support. If your reviews are predominantly bad, you have a support issue. Granted, you need to be offering quality products and services above all. Bad reviews are great feedback and can often tell you what needs fixing.

But how you engage with your clients online says just as much about you and your services than they do about what you offer.

2. Setup Google alerts and other “listening” tools.

Claim your listing on review sites and business directories. This way, you will be notified of any reviews that come in. But reviews can also appear on other, less well-known sites, private blogs, or socia media.

So set up alerts to be notified each and every time someone talks about you. You can get notified when any keyword you specify shows up — including names (yours, your brand, your business, a product or service, staff names etc), your address, your suppliers, and even your competitors.

3. Take note of what clients are saying and want.

Clients are giving you precious feedback. Responding to their reviews is important, but noting what they’re saying, educating them if they missed anything (by being genuinely helpful and not snarky, sarcastic, or passive-aggressive), or letting them know how you will act on their feedback.

4. Respond to reviews. All of them.

Thank the reviewer for their review. Even the good ones. Your responsiveness is what makes you look good, and not just what kind of response you give. But with the bad reviews, unless they are defamatory or fake (and even then), be sure to keep a polite and professional stance.

5. Apologize sincerely and sympathize.

Negative reviews will happen from time to time. Because, as I said earlier, you can’t please everyone. But be professional, courteous, and helpful in your response. Acknowledge their issue/pain, and let them know you are listening and how you will make it right.

6. Move the conversation offline.

Offer your contact information and the name of the person they can speak with directly (you or a member of your team, preferably someone in management) so they can vent in person, discuss their problem in depth, and refrain from adding more hostility to their already negative review.

7. Keep it short, sweet, and simple.

Don’t go into detail and drag the conversation further. If you post too much, your reply will be a) overlooked because it’s too wordy, b) seen as defensive (or desperate), and c) give the negative reviewer more ammunition they can use against you. Just stick with one short paragraph, no more than five sentences.

8. Use your name in responses to positive reviews.

Using the business name, product name, or service name will give your response to a positive review an extra SEO boost, which will hopefully bring positive reviews up to the top.

For example, you can say, “Thank you for reviewing [business name]. The team here is thrilled to read your feedback, and we’re proud to be one of the most helpful [business category] in [city].”

But with negative ones, refrain from using names or keywords. You want to avoid giving the negative review any kind of SEO juice.

9. Add some marketing and ask for action.

You can thank them for their review and offer them a gift for their feedback, such as a free newsletter or a free report. And suggest the next step, such as call, fill out a form, subscribe to a newsletter, or refer friends to your business.

10. Ask for a retraction or update.

If the complaint has been dealt with, and your response was appreciated and positively received, have the reviewer remove, or better yet, revise their reviews. This is not only a desirable outcome, but the response to a negative situation can actually make you look better than a positive review will.

Some final thoughts.

These steps all assume that the reviewer had a legitimate gripe, and their review was not fraudulent, fake, or malicious in any way. Malicious reviews need to be dealt with differently, and each platform has a proper procedure for dealing with these situations.

At the bottom of this article, you can find a step-by-step process and template in dealing with and removing misleading reviews on Yelp, Google, and Facebook — the three biggest review sites.

In the end, remember that reviews are increasingly being used as decision-making tools when clients and customers are choosing your services.

Taking the time to focus on how you appear, what others say, and how you respond will always work in your favour — or at the very least, it will make you look responsive and much better than if you were to ignore them.

Avatar of Michel Fortin

By Michel Fortin

Michel Fortin is an SEO consultant, content strategist, and marketing advisor. For the better part of 30 years, he helped hundreds of thousands of professionals and businesses increase their online visibility. He is the Director of Search at seoplus+, an award-winning digital marketing agency in Ottawa, Canada. He is the author of the More Traffic Memo™ SEO email newsletter.